It’s time to say goodbye to 2014.
The end of December is everyone’s favorite time to reflect back on all the things we wish we had done differently over the last twelve months and say: tomorrow; I’m definitely starting tomorrow.
In that spirit, I’ve made a list of four things that you can start doing (tomorrow!) that will get your poker game off on the right foot in the new year. Some of them may take longer to master than others, but you can be sure that implementing (and yes, sticking with) them throughout the year will increase your profits for 2015.
#1: Change the way you study the game
One of my law professors once told me that despite what we would like to believe, working “hard” is not enough for success. Honest efforts do not produce quality results; effective efforts do.
“Studying smart” is a concept he emphasized time and time again, and it is one that applies directly to poker. The explosion of poker theory requires an organized, systematic, approach to studying the game. Gone are the days where you could either read a good strategy book and/or watch a training video or two and expect to be profitable.
Today, to gain an edge on your opponents it is essential that you are not only using the tools available to you, but also using them better. PokerStars Team Pro Issac Haxton said during an interview on the 2+2 podcast said that he believes a significant portion of his edge comes from his study methodology (and no, he did not give any hints to us mere mortals, either).
What can you do differently? For me at least I have a tendency to focus too much on hands I lose. Taking time to analyze winning hands as well for spots where you may have been able to make more money than you did can be a good first step.
#2: Work Hard on Your Mental Game
This one has become something of a mantra recently. What doesn’t get said often enough though is that there is no way to separate your mental game at the table from your mental game away from the table. Tackling this head on really requires an entire lifestyle change.
Harvard-led medical research shows that meditation and other “mindfulness” techniques can actually grow brain tissue when used properly and consistently. It is not enough to simply work to control tilt issues or be more deliberate with your decision making. Adding a deliberate routine geared towards optimizing your cognition is essential.
What can you do differently? There is a ton of information out there — both poker-related and not — on how to begin a mindfulness practice. Even if you don’t want to commit a large amount of time right away, just spending a few minutes each day closing your eyes and focusing solely on your breathing is a great start. Don’t get caught up in formalities either — you can do it anywhere, even on a city bus if need be.
#3: Make and Plan and Stick to it
Poker games today come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. There are 6-max No Limit Hold’em tournaments, Limit Hold’em cash games, Pot Limit Omaha, Six Card Pot Limit Omaha, it goes on and on — and that’s just a short list of variants you might find being spread in your local casino.
Specialization is becoming increasingly common amongst serious players. Understanding the ins and outs of the game you play most often is essential to having an edge there. The more you play (along with effective study) the better you will get. However, that isn’t the end of the story.
Setting goals for yourself within your chosen game — and sticking to them — is equally important. Moving up to higher stakes to chase losses during a downswing, or playing too often because you are “running hot” will not be a part of that plan (if they are, then you need a better plan).
What can you do differently? Thinking about why you are playing the game is a good place to start. If enjoyment is your only consideration, you can pick a variant you like; if you are playing more for income then you might forgo a game you enjoy more for one where you think you have a larger edge.
Either way, exercising game selection based on your poker goals is a sure way to get more out of your time at the table.
#4: Never Stop Having Fun
Whenever I get a bad beat or go on a long downswing, I remember sitting around my friend’s kitchen table as a teenager playing for quarters. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in all the strategy and money surrounding poker; you need to keep things in perspective.
Everyone sitting around a poker table is there because it is fun to play cards. If you find yourself being miserable either from bad cards or general burnout, there is nothing wrong with taking a break from the game and coming back when you feel better. It will be better for you and your wallet in the long term.
We all like round numbers and clearly delineated breaks; I’m sure you have things you want to accomplish in the new year, just like I do. Whether your goals are at the table or away from it I wish you nothing but the best of luck in all things for 2015.
Remember, good things come to those who set a goal, make a plan, and work hard to execute it.
Happy New Year everyone!